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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 29, 2019

Happy almost New Year! It only recently dawned on Wrongo that we’re not just coming to the end of another year, but also the end of the decade. There have already been many “end of the decade” summaries, but Wrongo is more interested in the future.

The only comment about the past that matters now is that we went from being optimistic after Obama’s election to being pessimistic after Trump was elected. To get elected, our first black president had to be a nearly perfect human being.

Trump only had to meet the low bar of representing the worst of us to gain power. And now, we’re even more divided than we were in 2016.

2020 will start with an impeachment trial, and a partisan acquittal. 2020 will end with a presidential election. Realistically, should we be expecting change? The answer is possibly: The Republican Senate majority suddenly looks to be in jeopardy. Republican strategists and campaign staffers said that with the polarization of the Trump era, key House and Senate races will depend even more than usual on the presidential race.

Democrats are raising more money and are polling better than Republican incumbents in several battleground states. Dems are outraising the Repubs in Arizona, Iowa and Maine, and they only need three net new seats to be the majority in the Senate.

Trump’s Impeachment trial works as a political strategy to get Republican senators on the record about Trump. Putting those GOP swing state senators on the hot seat may be very important in November 2020.

If you look at polls from the swing states, it’s possible that Trump can win again in 2020. OTOH, it is difficult to believe that, after four years of living with him, America will see Donald Trump as their best option for the next four years.

On to cartoons. The Christmas week always brings a shortage of good things to present, but this kinda sums up the season:

GOP’s 2020 strategy:

Dems 2020 resolutions:

2020’s New Year’s babies get dose of reality:

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More Thoughts on Climate Change

The Daily Escape:

Frenchman Bay, viewed from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia NP, ME – 2019 photo by pmek99. Note the cruise ships lining up to visit Bar Harbor.

Following up on our post about climate change, many responded by attacking the premise that climate change is happening or, that it is due to human causes.

There have always been deniers. For example, a survey conducted by the YouGov-Cambridge Global Project in partnership with the Guardian, found that 13% of Americans believe that humans are not at all responsible for climate change. Another 5% of Americans don’t even believe the climate is changing. So, 18% think we shouldn’t worry about climate change.

Then again, 20% believe that extraterrestrials live amongst us.

Wrongo isn’t sure that we are focused correctly when we talk about climate change. It’s not the planet that’s in trouble, its humans. Humans thrive within a specific range of availability of water, air, and food, as do all animals. If one of the critical inputs is compromised, humans will fail to thrive, our habitable locations will shrink, and the human population will also shrink. The planet will survive.

For much of human history, humans have lived in hotter, dryer locations. They also survived in colder places, and in both, were able to live hard, but reasonably happy lives. Do we want to regress to that?

Peak human experience requires surpluses of food and livable space if the population is to grow. How can that happen on an overpopulated, resource-constrained planet?

Focus on this: Global population is projected to reach approximately 10.9 billion by 2100. If that is true, we will require 10X today’s electricity output by 2100. When you think about it, even if today, we had already reached the (unrealistic) level of 50% of power sourced from renewables, that would equal only 5% of the power we will need 100 years from now.

So, where will all that energy come from? Can Silicon Valley invent a different form of electric power generation? Will the world go fully into nuclear power?

The same is true for water. Where will the increased water resources come from? Desalination?

Suppose there is no climate change. We are still facing peak oil and peak other resources. We live on a finite Earth. Think about energy: We’re in a world of expanding energy demand. This will mean substantial shortages in the medium-term, which means immense and unavoidable energy price increases.

Politically, the higher prices should be used to defray the energy costs of the majority of the population that isn’t rich enough to pay them. Doing that will take a different economic system than we have today.

Can deniers also wish these problems away?

  • We live in a world where the big polluters, corporations, are dedicated to maximizing short term returns for a relatively few wealthy beneficiaries.
  • We still live in a Neoliberal world where government works for the few, where government largess continually transfers income to the wealthy, while our infrastructure is allowed to decay.
  • We still live in a world where economic growth cannot be sustained forever without collapse.

It will take a global mobilization that is massive, disruptive and smart to deal with the resources constraint, even if there wasn’t any climate change. What we really lack is the SOCIAL technology to mobilize corporations and politicians to bring about change.

Concern about the twin problems of finite resources and climate change hasn’t brought about any particular political, social or spiritual commitment on the part of the power elites in finance, corporations or politics.

For all of our superiority at the apex of the animal kingdom, we seem unwilling to solve what surely lies ahead. That’s why we see Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old scolding world leaders, with 4 million kids standing behind her. To adapt, we will require a Manhattan Project-level of effort, but we’ll have to do all that work in the face of depleted resources, an unstable climate, and a contracting economy.

We have choices. We can continue as we are, or we can stop now, take a moment to reassess, and then put ourselves on an alternative path, as the younger generation says we must.

Thunberg challenges us to stop being selfish, to care about the future, to care about living things and recognize that we are all part of the natural world, and that our commitment to continuing economic growth is killing the planet.

We should listen, organize, and act.

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Trump Signs Bill Containing Warning on Climate Change

The Daily Escape:

The Fuego Volcano in Guatemala erupts under the Milky Way, Antigua, Guatemala – photo by Albert Dros

While we were all focused on the Alabama senate election, on Tuesday, Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that sets spending limits for the US military in the coming fiscal year.

Buried in the bill is a discussion of climate change. The NDAA contains a provision making clear that “the sense of Congress” is that:

Climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.

The provision cites statements from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former defense secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

This creates an interesting moment for Trump, who signed the bill knowing this was in its language. He did not add a signing statement disavowing the provision, so he’s placing the climate change provisions of the NDAA directly opposite his stance on climate change, and his disavowal of the Paris Agreement.

By signing the bill, Trump also ordered a report on “vulnerabilities to military installations” that climate change could cause in the next 20 years. More from the bill:

As global temperatures rise, droughts and famines can lead to more failed states, which are breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations…In the Marshall Islands, an Air Force radar installation built on an atoll at a cost of $1 billion, is projected to be underwater within two decades. A three-foot rise in sea levels will threaten the operations of more than 128 United States military sites, and it is possible that many of these at-risk bases could be submerged in the coming years…

Lawfare reports that the bill’s climate change provision is as important for what it doesn’t require as for what it does. The bill doesn’t require that Gen. Mattis develop a policy to solve the problems that it acknowledges climate change poses. Instead, it merely requires that he provide an explanation of its “effects.”

This was Congress’s way of dealing with an earlier contentious debate about including the climate provision at all. The amendment to deny its inclusion failed by 185-234. Also, the military is not the agency responsible for regulating carbon emissions, so the impact of its requirements on policy may be small.

While the requirement that Mattis produce a report on the “mitigations” that will ensure “resiliency” could be construed as creating a policy response, the fact remains that there is no explicit direction that he implement any of the mitigations on which he’ll be reporting.

More from Lawfare: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

According to the Congressional Research Service, as of 2012, the Department of Defense was ‘the largest organizational user of petroleum in the world.’…And the thousands of [military] aircraft…accounted for 22% of all jet fuel used by the US as of 2008.

The bill includes money to buy 30 more planes than the military asked for (24 reliable old F/A-18s instead of 14, and 90 of the newer lemon, the F-35, instead of 70). The US Navy asked for one new Littoral Combat Ship. The NDAA budgets for three.

Translation: $Billions for the aerospace and ship-building government contractors. This year, the Defense expenditures tab will come to about $2,160 for every man, woman and child in the US.

Feel like you’re getting your money’s worth?

 

A quick note about Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Most haven’t heard of her, but she was an innovator on the electric guitar. She preferred to play a Gibson SG, and she was among the first to use heavy distortion. In 1947, Sister Rosetta put the then 14-year-old Little Richard on stage. Johnny Cash said that she was his favorite singer, and biggest inspiration. When she plays, you understand where Chuck Berry got his big guitar ideas. Here is Sister Rosetta Tharpe doing “That’s All” from 1964’s “Live in Paris “album:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Climate Talks

The climate is speaking to us, but is anybody listening? Here is what the climate is telling us:

50% of Forest Bird species will go extinct in 50 years
99% of Rhinos gone since 1914
97% of Tigers gone since 1914
90% of Lions gone since 1993
90% of Sea Turtles gone since 1980
90% of Monarch Butterflies gone since 1995
90% of Big Ocean Fish gone since 1950
80% of Antarctic Krill gone since 1975
80% of Western Gorillas gone since 1955
60% of Forest Elephants gone since 1970
50% of the Great Barrier Reef gone since 1985
40% of Giraffes gone since 2000
40% of ocean phytoplankton gone since 1950
70% of Marine Birds gone since 1950
97% – Humans & Livestock are now 97% of land-air vertebrate biomass, while 10,000 years ago humans were just 0.01% of land-air vertebrate biomass
1,000,000 – The number of humans, net, that are added to earth every 4½ days

But, you gotta admit, antibiotic resistant germs are doing really, really well!

Now, maybe you accept climate change as a reality. Or, you may be a climate change skeptic, or a climate change denier, but no one should misunderstand what the climate is telling us.

And, given the above, shouldn’t activists on all sides be discussing what can be done to stop the decline in flora and fauna? There cannot be a more important global problem that needs solving. Even Mr. Market should be working to help solve the die-off of species. Yet, we haven’t heard any ideas from him.

Here’s an idea: Getting human population growth and global GDP growth under control must be job one. Income inequality shouldn’t automatically prompt politicians to make calls for ever higher GDP growth, so that trickle-down will help the masses, since growing our way out of the die-off of species isn’t a viable long-term strategy.

You’d think politicians and economists would be asking: “Do we need to rethink our entire conceptual framework about population and economic growth?” Well, they aren’t interested in that thought.

They offer the same old thinking, just rearranged. If you want a Thanksgiving metaphor, your dinner plate is filled with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. And you take your fork and mix them all up, but they’re still the same. Even when you put gravy over all of it, it’s still not new. But it looks new, if somebody doesn’t think too carefully about what’s behind the new analysis.

Here is a view of the political divide on global warming in the US from The Economist:

Pew Global Warming top priority

And the NYT reported that on Tuesday, Republicans undercut Mr. Obama’s pledge at the Paris Climate Summit by approving two measures that Obama is sure to veto. The vote was largely along party lines. After the votes, Sen. John Barasso, (R-WY) said: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

While the president is at this climate conference, the American people [believe] that [his pledge] has a very, very low priority…

When Republicans in the Senate think the American people see climate change as a low priority when the poll above says they actually think its a pretty big deal, you know why we can’t get at solutions to the die-off of species.

Isn’t it curious that intelligent, educated conservatives denigrate climate change and its consequences, as some kind of phony science? They must see that there are plenty of business opportunities, and fortunes to be made as a result of climate change. This would normally have their hearts all aflutter at the chance to put their money behind a few disruptive innovations. But they have no interest, and are simply standing pat on the problem.

They are not alone. The Economist says the climate change just ain’t a big issue globally: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

A giant opinion-gathering exercise carried out by the UN finds that people in highly developed countries view climate change as the tenth most important issue out of a list of 16 that includes health care, phone and internet access, jobs, political freedom and reliable energy. In poor countries—and indeed in the world as a whole—climate change comes 16th out of 16.

It’s beginning to look like a few billion lemmings are just gonna follow their reproductive organs off a cliff.

And even if a few of today’s lemmings think they’re doing something new, for all of them together, well, things look grim.

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